Design with Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in Mind
At different points in my career, I have focused on architectural solutions that make buildings accessible and enjoyable to everyone. Now, at M+A, I specialize in accessibility and the implementation of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in the design of facilities. I strive to help our company and our clients create buildings that eliminate the barriers people with disabilities often encounter in the workplace and in public spaces.
The ADA is a civil rights law that prohibits discrimination based on disability. It was enacted in 1990 and amended in 2008. Each state implements ADA in their building codes - for example, the State of Ohio has implemented the measures of the ADA by adopting the ICC A117.1-2009 standard into the Ohio Building Code. The ADA is administered by the U.S. Department of Justice. Title I of the ADA relates to employment. Title II applies to state-funded or federally funded entities, such as government agencies; some hospitals; and public schools, colleges, and universities. Title III pertains to all commercial facilities and public spaces (with a few exceptions). In our work at M+A, we deal mainly with Title II and Title III.
For a building to be accessible, people of all abilities, ages, and impairments must be able to:
- Get to the entrance of a facility (e.g., parking, walks, and signage).
- Get into a facility and to their destination (e.g., doors, stairs, and elevators).
- Use the facility for their intended purpose or service (e.g., taking exams, performing procedures, completing work).
- Use public facilities (e.g., restrooms, drinking fountains, and phones).
For the past three years, I’ve expanded our accessibility services at M+A. I have conducted site surveys and helped develop transition plans to enable our clients to fulfill their obligations under the ADA. My main roles are to work directly with the client; to plan the assessment work and oversee the assessment process; to organize and manage teams performing assessments and to provide recommendations. The majority of my work is in the following four categories:
Recently, I led an accessibility project for our client, Columbus State Community College. We surveyed 31 buildings for the college, including areas such as classrooms, corridors, office areas, and restrooms. On this project, we found that buildings from the 1960s and 1970s had the most barriers to accessibility.
The ADA guidelines are a bit different for commercial facilities. Although not every space in a commercial building has to be accessible, a person with a disability must be able to park, get into the building, and access the services or transactions provided therein. In order to identify barriers and forestall potential litigation, it is advisable to have these types of spaces assessed.
Dormitories, senior living facilities, and apartment complexes all need to have a certain percentage of units that are accessible. A home should be easy to access and comfortable to live in.
In additions to buildings, we also review sidewalks, access routes, and parking lots.
When planning for a survey, I first need to consider my team and our skill set, plus the client’s availability and security for allowing the team into all of their spaces, and dovetail those two aspects into a project schedule. Each team member typically focuses on a certain type of space. For example, one will focus on restrooms, another on building entrances, and another on classrooms or offices. This makes for more consistent and efficient surveys. To be sensitive to the comfort of people in an occupied building, we use mixed-gender teams to assess in-use spaces such as restrooms and locker rooms. We want this process to be smooth and non-disruptive for our clients, especially public entities.
The importance of these surveys and plans goes beyond laws and lawsuits. Full accessibility to buildings should be highly prioritized to help eliminate the obstacles that can sometimes prevent people with disabilities from using public and commercial spaces. We should design to be as inclusive as possible.